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Friday, April 25, 2008

Darwin on God's revelation in nature

The works of Charles Darwin have been placed on-line. I decided that I wanted to see an on-line copy of his most famous work, The Origin of Species. The following met my eye, on page ii of the work:

"But with regard to the material world, we can at least go so far as this—we can perceive that events are brought about not by insulated interpositions of Divine power, exerted in each particular case, but by the establishment of general laws."

WHEWELL: Bridgewater Treatise.

"The only distinct meaning of the word 'natural' is stated, fixed or settled; since what is natural as much requires and presupposes an intelligent agent to render it so, i.e., to effect it continually or at stated times, as what is supernatural or miraculous does to effect it for once."

BUTLER: Analogy of Revealed Religion.

"To conclude, therefore, let no man out of a weak conceit of sobriety, or an ill-applied moderation, think or maintain, that a man can search too far or be too well studied in the book of God's word, or in the book of God's works; divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavour an endless progress or proficience in both."

BACON: Advancement of Learning.

The above three quotes form almost all of the second page of the sixth edition of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species. (1872)

I can only speculate as to why Darwin began this famous book in this way. I am not so thorough a scholar as to know the original source of any of these statements, or their contexts. But these quotations read as if Darwin:

1) Understood that a God who can establish general laws, which caused His creation to unfold in desired ways, is at least as wonderful as a God who intervenes in His creation over and over. (God could, of course, do both -- the quote doesn't say that, but I am.)

2) Believed that things we take for granted, like, say, photosynthesis or that three states of water can all exist at normal temperatures, are as wonderful as miracles, or more so.

3) Understood that learning about nature can be a way of learning about God.

No doubt I am reading a lot of myself into the above! I am not proposing that Darwin would have been comfortable with the Intelligent Design movement (much of which is not comfortable with Darwin) but that he seemed to understand that there might have been a Designer. I am uncomfortable with much of the Intelligent Design movement myself, but believe that there was and is an Intelligent Designer.

Thanks for reading.


Peter Mc said...

He used those passages because they were important in the historical development of the idea of evolution in Britain and set a context. Darwin did not invent the theory - it was talked about before he published his paper to the Linnaean Society in 1858, and in the run up to publication his correspondence with co-author Wallace shows very clearly he did not believe in the influence of a designer.

Martin LaBar said...

April 28, 2008: Thank you, peter mc.

You seem to be more of a Darwin scholar than I. However, The director of the Darwin on-line collection, presumably a Darwin scholar, was interviewed on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, on April 25, 2008. This man said "Darwin was no atheist," and indicated that Darwin was open to belief in a Designer who created with emergent properties, as is suggested by the quotation from Whewell, above.